Amendment 67: Third try at ‘personhood’ goes way too far

DAVID HOLUB/Durango Herald illustration

Colorado’s anti-abortion extremists have a clear goal: They want to ban all abortions in all circumstances, even in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in danger.

Twice, in 2008 and 2010, they gathered enough signatures for Colorado ballot initiatives that would have defined a fetus, or even a fertilized egg, as a legal person, subjecting women and their doctors to criminal liability and banning all abortion. The attempted 2010 amendment, in fact, was very explicit with regard to forcing women who are raped to bear the children of their rapists.

When Colorado voters rejected this extreme agenda both times by wide margins, fetal personhood proponents rethought their strategy. This time around, they have focused their pitch to voters on the genuinely tragic case of a woman whose pregnancy was ended by a drunken driver – days before she was due to give birth. Because she had not yet given birth, the accident could not be treated as a homicide.

That was in 2012.

The Colorado Legislature responded thoughtfully and has since passed laws that provide strong criminal and civil penalties for unlawful termination of a pregnancy through criminal or negligent acts, including drunken driving.

You might think Personhood USA and the proponents of Amendment 67 supported that legislation, but they did not. They opposed it because it protected pregnant women without doing what they really wanted, which was to define a fetus as a legal person and ban all abortion in the process.

Take a look at Amendment 67 and what it really does.

Its language states: “In the interest of the protection of pregnant mothers and their unborn children from criminal offenses and negligent and wrongful acts, the words ‘person’ and ‘child’ in the Colorado Criminal Code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act must include unborn human beings.”

Under Amendment 67, every place that the word “person” or “child” occurs anywhere in the Colorado Criminal Code, it “must” be interpreted to include “unborn human beings.” The phrase “unborn human beings” has no established legal or medical definition, so it would apply without limitation to all stages of pregnancy, all the way back to a fertilized egg, probably including frozen embryos as well.

With this alteration to the criminal code, women and their doctors could be jailed for participating in an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and women who suffer a miscarriage could very well be investigated to determine if they were culpable and criminally liable for manslaughter.

The cascade of potential consequences from defining a fetus, zygote, fertilized egg or frozen embryo as a legal person is mindboggling. It would allow the government and courts to violate the sanctity of doctor-patient privacy and allow government access to women’s private medical records. It would prevent couples who want to have children from having them through in-vitro fertilization. It would ban many forms of contraception, resulting in more unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortions. It would prevent women from receiving treatments for cancer or other diseases that might affect a known or possible pregnancy.

Neither the government nor religious crusaders should be allowed to intervene and take control of difficult, personal decisions best left to a woman and her doctor. Amendment 67 goes far beyond what it appears to be at first glance, threatening basic rights and opening a legal Pandora’s box that would be very hard to close because it would be written into the Colorado Constitution.

Personhood USA and its allies know that they can’t get what they want if they are open about their goals, so they are using the guise of protecting pregnant women as a cover for attacking the reproductive rights of women.

It’s a sneaky approach – and a very dangerous one for Colorado women and their families.

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley is executive director of the ACLU of Colorado. Reach him at (720) 402-3119.

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